If you feel a lump in your breast, try not to panic or worry. Most lumps aren’t breast cancer; most of them are something less serious like a benign cyst or growth called a fibroadenoma, especially in women under 40.
What should I do if I find a lump in my breast?
If you find a new lump in your breast, it’s important to follow up by making an appointment with your doctor or healthcare provider. However, while pursuing follow up care, try not to panic or worry; there are many types of breast lumps that are not cancerous.
Many lumps can be normal breast tissue, or a benign mass such as a cyst or fibroadenoma (benign solid tumor). Breast imaging, such as a mammogram or ultrasound, is usually able to determine whether a lump is cancerous or benign.
Some lumps will go away on their own. In younger women, lumps are often related to menstrual periods and will go away by the end of the cycle. Sometimes, lumps persist and are painful — and they can be removed by a surgeon if they’re causing pain or breast deformity.
If you find a new breast mass during pregnancy or lactation, these are also frequently benign; most frequently these will be fibroadenoma or galactocele (milk cyst). However, it is still important to see your healthcare provider about these to rule out the small chance of a cancer that is being stimulated by the hormones related to pregnancy and breastfeeding.
When to see your doctor
See your doctor if you have any of these warning signs of breast cancer:
- A lump, knot, or thickening inside the breast or underarm area that feels harder or different from the rest of the breast or the other breast
- Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New pain in one spot that doesn't go away
Mammograms are recommended beginning at age 40
A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray that allows physicians to look for changes in breast tissue and it is the best way to check for breast cancer. Although there are multiple guidelines with differing recommendations, Intermountain Healthcare recommends annual mammograms beginning at age 40. It's easier to detect breast cancer if you’ve had a normal mammogram first, so your images can be compared from one year to the next and breast changes can be identified. If you have a family history of breast cancer, the recommendation is to begin 10 years before the age at which that family member was diagnosed.
If you have questions about when and how frequently to start screening, discussing this with your healthcare provider to fully understand your lifetime risk for breast cancer and to formulate a personalized plan for cancer screening.